It may be remembered that when Lady Glencora Palliser was shown into Madame Goesler’s room, Madame Goesler had just explained somewhat forcibly to the Duke of Omnium her reasons for refusing the loan of his Grace’s villa at Como. She had told the Duke in so many words that she did not mean to give the world an opportunity of maligning her, and it would then have been left to the Duke to decide whether any other arrangements might have been made for taking Madame Goesler to Como, had he not been interrupted. That he was very anxious to take her was certain. The green brougham had already been often enough at the door in Park Lane to make his Grace feel that Madame Goesler’s company was very desirable — was, perhaps, of all things left for his enjoyment, the one thing the most desirable. Lady Glencora had spoken to her husband of children crying for the top brick of the chimney. Now it had come to this, that in the eyes of the Duke of Omnium Marie Max Goesler was the top brick of the chimney. She had more wit for him than other women — more of that sort of wit which he was capable of enjoying. She had a beauty which he had learned to think more alluring than other beauty. He was sick of fair faces, and fat arms, and free necks. Madame Goesler’s eyes sparkled as other eyes did not sparkle, and there was something of the vagueness of mystery in the very blackness and gloss and abundance of her hair — as though her beauty was the beauty of some world which he had not yet known. And there was a quickness and yet a grace of motion about her which was quite new to him. The ladies upon whom the Duke had of late most often smiled had been somewhat slow — perhaps almost heavy — though, no doubt, graceful withal. In his early youth he remembered to have seen, somewhere in Greece, such a houri as was this Madame Goesler. The houri in that case had run off with the captain of a Russian vessel engaged in the tallow trade; but not the less was there left on His Grace’s mind some dreamy memory of charms which had impressed him very strongly when he was simply a young Mr Palliser, and had had at his command not so convenient a mode of sudden abduction as the Russian captain’s tallow ship. Pressed hard by such circumstances as these, there is no knowing how the Duke might have got out of his difficulties had not Lady Glencora appeared upon the scene.
Since the future little Lord Silverbridge had been born, the Duke had been very constant in his worship of Lady Glencora, and as, from year to year, a little brother was added, thus making the family very strong and stable, his acts of worship had increased; but with his worship there had come of late something almost of dread — something almost of obedience, which had made those who were immediately about the Duke declare that His Grace was a good deal changed. For, hitherto, whatever may have been the Duke’s weaknesses, he certainly had known no master. His heir, Plantagenet Palliser, had been always subject to him. His other relations had been kept at such a distance as hardly to be more than recognised; and though His Grace no doubt had had his intimacies, they who had been intimate with him had either never tried to obtain ascendancy, or had failed. Lady Glencora, whether with or without a struggle, had succeeded, and people about the Duke said that the Duke was much changed. Mr Fothergill — who was His Grace’s man of business, and who was not a favourite with Lady Glencora — said that he was very much changed indeed. Finding His Grace so much changed, Mr Fothergill had made a little attempt at dictation himself, but had receded with fingers very much scorched in the attempt. It was indeed possible that the Duke was becoming in the slightest degree weary of Lady Glencora’s thraldom, and that he thought that Madame Max Goesler might be more tender with him. Madame Max Goesler, however, intended to be tender only on one condition.
When Lady Glencora entered the room, Madame Goesler received her beautifully. “How lucky that you should have come just when His Grace is here!” she said.
“I saw my uncle’s carriage, and of course I knew it,” said Lady Glencora.
“Then the favour is to him,” said Madame Goesler, smiling.
“No, indeed; I was coming. If my word is to be doubted in that point, I must insist on having the servant up; I must, certainly. I told him to drive to this door, as far back as Grosvenor Street. Did I not, Planty?” Planty was the little Lord Silverbridge as was to be, if nothing unfortunate intervened, who was now sitting on his grand-uncle’s knee.
“Dou said to the little house in Park Lane,” said the boy.
“Yes — because I forgot the number.”
“And it is the smallest house in Park Lane, so the evidence is complete,” said Madame Goesler. Lady Glencora had not cared much for evidence to convince Madame Goesler, but she had not wished her uncle to think that he was watched and hunted down. It might be necessary that he should know that he was watched, but things had not come to that as yet.
“How is Plantagenet?asked the Duke.
“Answer for papa,” said Lady Glencora to her child.
“Papa is very well, but he almost never comes home.”
“He is working for his country,” said the Duke. Your papa is a busy, useful man, and can’t afford time to play with a little boy as I can.”
“But papa is not a duke.”
“He will be some day, and that probably before long, my boy. He will be a duke quite as soon as he wants to be a duke. He likes the House of Commons better than the strawberry leaves, I fancy. There is not a man in England less in a hurry than he is.”
“No, indeed,” said Lady Glencora.
“How nice that is,” said Madame Goesler.
“And I ain’t in a hurry either — am I, mamma?” said the little future Lord Silverbridge.
“You are a wicked little monkey,” said his grand-uncle, kissing him. At this moment Lady Glencora was, no doubt, thinking how necessary it was that she should be careful to see that things did turn out in the manner proposed — so that people who had waited should not be disappointed; and the Duke was perhaps thinking that he was not absolutely bound to his nephew by any law of God or man; and Madame Max Goesler — I wonder whether her thoughts were injurious to the prospects of that handsome bold-faced little boy.
Lady Glencora rose to take her leave first. It was not for her to show any anxiety to force the Duke out of the lady’s presence. If the Duke were resolved to make a fool of himself, nothing that she could do would prevent it. But she thought that this little inspection might possibly be of service, and that her uncle’s ardour would be cooled by the interruption to which he had been subjected. So she went, and immediately afterwards the Duke followed her. The interruption had, at any rate, saved him on that occasion from making the highest bid for the pleasure of Madame Goesler’s company at Como. The Duke went down with the little boy in his hand, so that there was not an opportunity for a single word of interest between the gentleman and the lady.
Madame Goesler, when she was alone, seated herself on her sofa, tucking her feet up under her as though she were seated somewhere in the East, pushed her ringlets back roughly from her face, and then placed her two hands to her sides so that her thumbs rested lightly on her girdle. When alone with something weighty on her mind she would sit in this form for the hour together, resolving, or trying to resolve, what should be her conduct. She did few things without much thinking, and though she walked very boldly, she walked warily. She often told herself that such success as she had achieved could not have been achieved without much caution. And yet she was ever discontented with herself, telling herself that all that she had done was nothing, or worse than nothing. What was it all, to have a duke and to have lords dining with her, to dine with lords or with a duke itself, if life were dull with her, and the hours hung heavy! Life with her was dull, and the hours did hang heavy. And what if she caught this old man, and became herself a duchess — caught him by means of his weakness, to the inexpressible dismay of all those who were bound to him by ties of blood — would that make her life happier, or her hours less tedious? That prospect of a life on the Italian lakes with an old man tied to her side was not so charming in her eyes as it was in those of the Duke. Were she to succeed, and to be blazoned forth to the world as Duchess of Omnium, what would she have gained?
She perfectly understood the motive of Lady Glencora’s visit, and thought that she would at any rate gain something in the very triumph of baffling the manoeuvres of so clever a woman. Let Lady Glencora throw her aegis before the Duke, and it would be something to carry off his Grace from beneath the protection of so thick a shield. The very flavour of the contest was pleasing to Madame Goesler. But, the victory gained, what then would remain to her? Money she had already; position, too, she had of her own. She was free as air, and should it suit her at any time to go off to some lake of Como in society that would personally be more agreeable to her than that of the Duke of Omnium, there was nothing to hinder her for a moment. And then came a smile over her face — but the saddest smile — as she thought of one with whom it might be pleasant to look at the colour of Italian skies and feel the softness of Italian breezes. In feigning to like to do this with an old man, in acting the raptures of love on behalf of a worn-out duke who at the best would scarce believe in her acting, there would not be much delight for her. She had never yet known what it was to have anything of the pleasure of love. She had grown, as she often told herself, to be a hard, cautious, selfish, successful woman, without any interference or assistance from such pleasure. Might there not be yet time left for her to try it without selfishness — with an absolute devotion of self — if only she could find the right companion? There was one who might be such a companion, but the Duke of Omnium certainly could not be such a one.
But to be Duchess of Omnium! After all, success in this world is everything — is at any rate the only thing the pleasure of which will endure. There was the name of many a woman written in a black list within Madame Goesler’s breast — written there because of scorn, because of rejected overtures, because of deep social injury; and Madame Goesler told herself often that it would be a pleasure to her to use the list, and to be revenged on those who had ill-used and scornfully treated her. She did not readily forgive those who had injured her. As Duchess of Omnium she thought that probably she might use that list with efficacy. Lady Glencora had treated her well, and she had no such feeling against Lady Glencora. As Duchess of Omnium she would accept Lady Glencora as her dearest friend, if Lady Glencora would admit it. But if it should be necessary that there should be a little duel between them, as to which of them should take the Duke in hand, the duel must of course be fought. In a matter so important, one woman would of course expect no false sentiment from another. She and Lady Glencora would understand each other — and no doubt, respect each other.
I have said that she would sit there resolving, or trying to resolve. There is nothing in the world so difficult as that task of making up one’s mind. Who is there that has not longed that the power and privilege of selection among alternatives should be taken away from him in some important crisis of his life, and that his conduct should be arranged for him, either this way or that, by some divine power if it were possible — by some patriarchal power in the absence of divinity — or by chance even, if nothing better than chance could be found to do it? But no one dares to cast the die, and to go honestly by the hazard. There must be the actual necessity of obeying the die, before even the die can be of any use. As it was, when Madame Goesler had sat there for an hour, till her legs were tired beneath her, she had not resolved. It must be as her impulse should direct her when the important moment came. There was not a soul on earth to whom she could go for counsel, and when she asked herself for counsel, the counsel would not come.
Two days afterwards the Duke called again. He would come generally on a Thursday — early, so that he might be there before other visitors; and he had already quite learned that when he was there other visitors would probably be refused admittance. How Lady Glencora had made her way in, telling the servant that her uncle was there, he had not understood. That visit had been made on the Thursday, but now he came on the Saturday — having, I regret to say, sent down some early fruit from his own hot-houses — or from Covent Garden — with a little note on the previous day. The grapes might have been pretty well, but the note was injudicious. There were three lines about the grapes, as to which there was some special history, the vine having been brought from the garden of some villa in which some ill-used queen had lived and died; and then there was a postscript in one line to say that the Duke would call on the following morning. I do not think that he had meant to add this when he began his note; but then children who want the top brick want it so badly, and cry for it so perversely!
Of course Madame Goesler was at home. But even then she had not made up her mind. She had made up her mind only to this — that he should be made to speak plainly, and that she would take time for her reply. Not even with such a gem as the Duke’s coronet before her eyes, would she jump at it. Where there was so much doubt, there need at least be no impatience.
“You ran away the other day, Duke, because you could not resist the charm of that little boy,” she said, laughing.
“He is a dear little boy — but it was not that,” he answered.
“Then what was it? Your niece carried you off in a whirlwind. She was come and gone, taking you with her, in half a minute.”
“She had disturbed me when I was thinking of something,” said the Duke.
“Things shouldn’t be thought of — not so deeply as that.” Madame Goesler was playing with a bunch of his grapes now, eating one or two from a small china plate which had stood upon the table, and he thought that he had never seen a woman so graceful and yet so natural. “Will you not eat your own grapes with me? They are delicious — flavoured with the poor queen’s sorrows.” He shook his head, knowing that it did not suit his gastric juices to have to deal with fruit eaten at odd times. “Never think, Duke. I am convinced that it does no good. It simply means doubting, and doubt always leads to error. The safest way in the world is to do nothing.”
“I believe so,” said the Duke.
“Much the safest. But if you have not sufficient command over yourself to enable you to sit in repose, always quiet, never committing yourself to the chance of any danger — then take a leap in the dark; or rather many leaps. A stumbling horse regains his footing by persevering in his onward course. As for moving cautiously, that I detest.”
“And yet one must think — for instance, whether one will succeed or not.”
“Take that for granted always. Remember, I do not recommend motion at all. Repose is my idea of life — repose and grapes.”
The Duke sat for a while silent, taking his repose as far as the outer man was concerned, looking at his top brick of the chimney, as from time to time she ate one of his grapes. Probably she did not eat above half a dozen of them altogether, but he thought that the grapes must have been made for the woman, she was so pretty in the eating of them. But it was necessary that he should speak at last. “Have you been thinking of coming to Como?” he said.
“I told you that I never think.”
“But I want an answer to my proposition.”
“I thought I had answered Your Grace on that question.” Then she put down the grapes, and moved herself on her chair, so that she sat with her face turned away from him.
“But a request to a lady may be made twice.”
“Oh, yes. And I am grateful, knowing how far it is from your intention to do me any harm. And I am somewhat ashamed of my warmth on the other day. But still there can be but one answer. There are delights which a woman must deny herself, let them be ever so delightful.”
“I had thought — “ the Duke began, and then he stopped himself.
“Your Grace was saying that you thought — ”
“Marie, a man at my age does not like to be denied.”
“What man likes to be denied anything by a woman at any age? A woman who denies anything is called cruel at once — even though it be her very soul.” She had turned round upon him now, and was leaning forward towards him from her chair, so that he could touch her if he put out his hand.
He put out his hand and touched her. “Marie,” he said, “will you deny me if I ask?”
“Nay, my lord; how shall I say? There is many a trifle I would deny you. There is many a great gift I would give you willingly.”
“But the greatest gift of all?”
“My lord, if you have anything to say, you must say it plainly. There never was a woman worse than I am at the reading of riddles.”
“Could you endure to live in the quietude of an Italian lake with an old man?” Now he touched her again, and had taken her hand.
“No, my lord — nor with a young one — for all my days. But I do not know that age would guide me.”
Then the Duke rose and made his proposition in form. “Marie, you know that I love you. Why it is that I at my age should feel so sore a love, I cannot say.”
“So sore a love!”
“So sore, if it be not gratified. Marie, I ask you to be my wife.”
“Duke of Omnium, this from you!”
“Yes, from me. My coronet is at your feet. If you will allow me to raise it, I will place it on your brow.”
Then she went away from him, and seated herself at a distance. After a moment or two he followed her, and stood with his arm upon her shoulder. “You will give me an answer, Marie?”
“You cannot have thought of this, my lord.”
“Nay; I have thought of it much.”
“And your friends?”
“My dear, I may venture to please myself in this — as in everything. Will you not answer me?”
“Certainly not on the spur of the moment, my lord. Think how high is the position you offer me, and how immense is the change you propose to me. Allow me two days, and I will answer you by letter. I am so fluttered now that I must leave you.” Then he came to her, took her hand, kissed her brow, and opened the door for her.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55